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School welcomes hero home

Excited students enjoy return visit from Canadian major back from Kandahar

HAPPY DAY: Students at St. Clare school wave Canadian flags to welcome Major Charles Jansen to the school gym last week. (Philip Alves/Vaughan Today)

HAPPY DAY: Students at St. Clare school wave Canadian flags to welcome Major Charles Jansen to the school gym last week. (Philip Alves/Vaughan Today)

In the eyes of the students at St. Clare CES, Major Charles Jansen is a returning hero.

Last Thursday, he visited the Woodbridge school to talk to the kids about his recent 15-month mission, which included a 10-month tour of duty in Afghanistan’s volatile Kandahar province.

Jansen was greeted by cheers from the primary students assembled in the gym. Following the major’s lead, some saluted when the national anthem was played.

“It’s great to be back here in person,” Jansen said. “It’s great to be back home and talk to you a little bit today about what life is like in Afghanistan, what are the people like, what are the kids like.”

Jansen, whose wife Joanne is a grade 8 teacher at St. Clare, has been visiting the school for years on Remembrance Day. His deployment overseas meant his usual in-person November visit couldn’t happen, though he still found a way to communicate.

“It seems almost a lifetime but it was only just a few months ago, wasn’t it, last November that we were doing a webcam for Remembrance Day from my base in Kandahar,” Jansen said.

Seeing the major in person was “very cool”, said Michael, a grade 3 student.

“Last time, we only got to see him on the big projector screen, so this time we actually get to see him in person,” he said.

Jansen showed slides and talked about what Canada is doing in Afghanistan, which includes dealing with the Taliban insurgency.

“Think of it like bullies,” he told the students. “If you have a classroom and you have a lot of bullies, are you thinking more about the teacher or are you thinking about bullies?

“Someone has to stop the bullies from bothering you so you can think about your learning. That’s what we were doing there for the Afghan people.”

Though Jansen was talking about a war half a world away, the message to the students is a valuable one, Joanne said.

“It really signifies the fact that what we’re doing in the schools is trying to get people to get along and appreciate differences and nationalities,” she said. “He’s a soldier, he’s dealing with that and it brings a real-life experience to the kids.”

The tables turned after the slideshow and Jansen answered questions from the students.

“Sometimes you get some very insightful questions,” he said after the recess bell rang and the kids left the gym. “You get the usual quick ones that you expect: What’s war like? What’s food like? Have you killed anybody?”

Some questions are easy to answer or duck, as Jansen did when a student asked the latter. Others, he said, bring back bad memories.

“The one young lad was asking me about if I lost any close friends,” Jansen said. “I did lose a very close friend. He died the rotation before I deployed over there.

“It was hard. It was hard seeing the memorial that was set up for him there, as well,” he continued. “It’s hard when I hear his name or I even think about it at times. But that’s part of the reality of being a soldier, unfortunately.”

Grade 3s Michael, Maria Christina and Michael presented Jansen with a Team Canada hockey jersey on behalf of the school. It was a show of appreciation for the major’s years visiting St. Clare.

“My favourite part was when we got to read him our speech and when we got to bring him his gift,” Maria Christina said.

Jansen’s favourite part was seeing the kids in person, something he said he’s looking forward to doing again on Remembrance Day.

Vaughan Today
In print: May 8, 2009, page 1
Online: May 7, 2009 [link]